Acts 17:11 The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of biblical meditation

Notes from sermon preached on 16th October 2011: Biblical meditation 5

This week we will be looking at the fifth chapter in Selwyn Hughes’ little book on “Getting the best out of the Bible” by learning how to meditate on Scripture.  This morning I want to ask two question: 1) Why should we meditate on the scriptures, 2) how to mediate on the Scriptures.

Why should we meditate?

1.       To grow up in Christ

Learning to meditate on the Bible is essential if we are going to grow up as Christians.  It’s a sad fact that the church is full of baby Christians.  We need to become not just converts, but disciples (followers) of Jesus.  Two weeks ago I was at a refresher conference, which was very refreshing! I went to a seminar on “Re-imagining Church as Covenant Community.”  He concluded by re-imagining Baptist life as community committed to discipleship which flows out in mission.  I found this very encouraging since this is exactly what I feel God has been saying to us in our vision to be community, teaching (discipleship) and sending (mission) church.

We believe discipleship is an essential area where we should be focusing.  God doesn’t want us to stay as spiritual babies.  He wants us to “grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ” [Ephesians 4:15].  Engaging with scripture and meditation on Scripture is a key part of this.  But it isn’t automatic; we do have to make the time and the effort.

2.       Our life together 

Baptist Christians have always sought to model our Church life on the pattern we find in the Scriptures.  This is and always has been a radical position.

“Baptists are radicals in the sense that they believe in returning to the roots of Christian faith (note that the English word ‘radical’ comes from the Latin ‘radix’ which means root.)  This means that they seek to root their life together in the Biblical pattern of being church.”  (Quote from ‘Who’d be a Baptist?’p3.)

But we can’t root our life together in the biblical pattern unless we seek to discover what the biblical pattern is.

3.       For spiritual discernment

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment                          trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. [Heb 5:14]

Spiritual discernment is very important. There has been tremendous church growth in China over the last decades, but there have also been problems with cults.  For example, a group called ‘Lightning from the East’ swept China and swept up a lot of young Christians as well.  It taught Jesus has already returned, and Jesus has been born as a woman in China.  These young Christians hadn’t been taught or discipled, and one of the reasons was that there aren’t enough Bibles in China.  If they had known the Scriptures they wouldn’t have gone after this cult.

Knowing the Scriptures and meditating on them is important because it will give you spiritual discernment to prevent you, and us as a congregation, from going astray.

A story in Acts chapter 17 illustrates the attitude we should have.  Paul and his ministry team came into Thessalonica.  On the Sabbath they went to the Jewish synagogue, as was his custom, and for 3 weeks in a row Paul “reasoned with then from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.” Paul reasoned and he tried to explain to them from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.  A few were convinced, but most objected and even formed a mob to stir up a riot.  Paul and Silas managed to escape by night and went to the next town of Berea, where Paul begins to teach in the synagogue again.

“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” [Acts 17:11]

The Thessalonians didn’t listen and they didn’t even bother to look into what Paul was saying.  But the Bereans did the right thing and checked it out.  They didn’t just accept it because the great apostle Paul was saying it; they went back to the Scriptures themselves to see if what he was saying was true.  They were exercising discernment.  They were very interested in what Paul was saying, but they knew they had to check it out against the Scriptures.  We should do the same, but we can’t do that unless we know the Scriptures at least a little, or unless our powers of spiritual discernment have been trained by constant use.

So my prayer is that God would give each one of you a God given hunger for the Scriptures so that we might grow up into Christ, learn spiritual discernment and to understand our life together as Christians.

How should I meditate?

We’ve learned a lot over the last four weeks about meditation, but not much about how to do it.  So now we are going to learn how to meditate (though there’s a lot more that could be said.)

1.       Select an appropriate verse or passage of Scripture

This could be one verse which particularly speaks to you.  Or it could be one verse from your daily Bible reading.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  A single verse is more realistic for most of us than a whole chapter.

I have chosen Matthew 9:35 to meditate on this week.  Just this one verse has been going round my head for much of the week.  It’s part of a passage from 9:35-39 with the title in the NIV “The workers are few.”

2.       Memorize the text

Some people find memorization easy, other find it difficult.  Some people seem to have amazing memories.  There are some people who can tell you who scored each goal in the semi-finals of the 1958 World Cup!  There are some people who seem to know just about every detail of every car which has ever been made!  Why can they remember so well?  I think one reason is because they are very interested in their subject, and they think on it (or meditate) just about all the time.  We need to have an interest in scripture, and this is something the Holy Spirit can give us.  If we feel we don’t have much interest we can pray that God would increase our desire for his Word.

My verse this week was Matthew 9:35.  Memorize it by first breaking it down. Start with the first phrase and say it slowly, over and over.

“Jesus … went … through … all … the … towns … and … villages.”

Say it out loud.  Then the next section: “Teaching … in … their … synagogues.”  Repeat it over and over.

“And preaching the good news of the kingdom.”

“And healing every sickness and disease.”

Once you’re memorised the parts, put them together until you memorise the whole verse.

Visualisation can help our memories.  Imagine Jesus walking with his disciples and the crowds along the sandy road.  Imagine the sun shining; imagine the group is alive with chatter and Jesus is leading the way. Imagine Jesus teaching in the synagogue and healing the sick and the delight on people’s faces.

3.       Look up the meaning of words you don’t understand

You may come across a word you don’t understand. Do you know what a synagogue is?  You probably do, but if not you can look it up and you find out it’s a Jewish place of worship.

4.       Put the verse in context

A text out of context is a pretext.  In other words, we can make a verse mean whatever we want it to mean if we don’t read it in its wider context.  My verse this is relatively straightforward.   The verse is part of the gospel and describes Jesus traveling ministry.  Bible commentaries can help to put a verse or passage in context.

5.       Meditate on it

Chew the cud – chew the verse over.  Concentrate on each word.  Ask lots of questions about the verse.  What is this ‘good news of the kingdom’?  You might do a bit of research and find out that the ‘good news’ is the gospel, which means the ‘story of God’.  It’s the story of God’s saving power which was preached to Abraham, and that one day there would be a promised Messiah.

You might start to make links with other parts of Scripture.  You might say to yourself, “I’m sure there’s something in Isaiah about proclaiming the kingdom.” You look it up:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” [Isa 52:7]

This is what Jesus was doing, preaching peace with God through forgiveness of sins, explaining to them the way of salvation through repentance and faith in God.  This message of the reign of God was good news of happiness, and it’s the same message today.

Start concentrating on the last part of the verse: “healing every sickness and disease.” Jesus wasn’t just talking about the kingdom; he also demonstrated the kingdom with signs.  Then 1Corinthains 4:20 comes to mind where Paul says, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

When we meditate on Scripture, we begin to feed our spirit, and the Holy Spirit begins to direct our thoughts.  You might even jot them down.  And before you know it you’ve got a sermon to preach.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a church full of preachers?  Well, not everyone is an upfront preacher, but the point is you have something from God to share with others such as a friend or a neighbour.

Let us pray

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